The rapid involution of the rat ventral prostate after castration is an active process initiated by removal of the inhibitory effects of androgen on prostatic cell death. The present studies demonstrate that after castration-induced androgen deprivation a series of temporally discrete biochemical events are activated which result in the rapid programmed death of the subset of androgen-dependent cells within the rat ventral prostate. These biochemical steps involve 1) rapid loss of nuclear androgen receptor retention; by 12 h after castration, androgen receptors are no longer detectable in ventral prostatic nuclei; 2) an initial fragmentation of nuclear DNA into low mol wt (<1000 basepairs) nucleosomal oligomers which lack intranucleosomal break points; and 3) eventual complete digestion of these nucleosomal oligomers into component nucleotides. Additional studies demonstrate that activation of a Ca2+-Mg2+-dependent endonuclease is associated with this DNA fragmentation. By 4 days after castration, maximal DNA fragmentation is obtained, with 15% of the total nuclear DNA extractable as low mol wt fragments. Proteolytic enzymes are apparently not involved initially in this process, suggesting that DNA fragmentation is a discrete event in, rather than a result of, cell death. Flow cytometric analysis of nuclear DNA content demonstrated that each day after castration, a subpopulation of androgen-dependent cells in rat ventral prostate fragmented all of their genomic DNA, as opposed to the whole population of cells fragmenting an increasing portion of their DNA daily.
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